What first comes to mind when you hear “Italian food”? You probably imagine a hearty plate of spaghetti in marinara sauce or a tray of brick-oven pizza. These are delicious, indeed, but they’re only a small fraction of Italy’s diverse culinary offerings.
With countless regions and an impressively wide array of delectable street food, it’s such a shame to limit yourself to the go-to tourist diet.
The next time you visit Italy or even an authentic Italian restaurant and wine bar in Dublin, here are 9 mouthwatering yet lesser-known Italian dishes you should try when you see them on the menu.
1. Osso Buco alla Milanese
If there’s one meat-based Italian dish you should try in Italy, let it be Osso Buco alla Milanese.
Osso Buco alla Milanese (which hails from Milan) is made with veal shanks, which are slowly braised in white wine and garlic, and served with vegetables and a tangy, garlicky gremolata. The meat is so tender you can easily eat it with just a fork – no knife included. If that’s not enough to make your mouth water, make sure to scoop out the rich, buttery marrow inside the bones – it’s the best part.
Ribollita, a classic cucina povera or “poor man’s food”, dates back in the medieval period. This healthy Italian food originated from servants who would collect their master’s leftover bread, beans, and vegetables and boil it in water for their own dinner.
Taste it to believe it – with bread to thicken the soup, ribollita feels rich and hearty. Despite its humble beginnings, Ribollita is proudly considered as a Tuscan classic and is perfect in the winter months.
3. Tortellini e Brodo
Here’s another perfect comfort food for colder seasons and during the holidays. As its name suggests, this delicious Italian dish is just tortellini served in broth. This dish from Emelia-Romagna is made with tortellini that’s stuffed with veal and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and topped with a light sprinkling of grated parmesan. They float in a simple, homemade chicken or beef broth.
Do you love mozzarella cheese sticks? Well, Arancini might surely be your new favorite.
These are stuffed balls of rice with ragù (thick tomato and meat sauce), peas, and mozzarella cheese, coated in breadcrumbs and deep-fried. These bite-sized balls of goodness can be found throughout Southern Italy and Sicily. They may also come in different varieties, shapes, and fillings.
If you’re a fan of spaghetti, you might want to give its thicker and rougher cousin a chance. Bigoli noodles, the signature pasta of the Veneto region, are thick, dense, coarse, and tubular. They are traditionally handmade from duck eggs and buckwheat flour.
Bigoli is traditionally served with a classic sauce of red wine, vegetables, and roasted wild duck, which goes perfectly with the dense noodles.
6. Risi e bisi
This Italian dish, which means “rice and peas” may not sound and look attractive but it’s surprisingly flavorful and healthy. While it consists only of rice and peas, it’s cooked with stock and seasoning like risotto but without the constant stirring to achieve a soupier consistency. This dish is perfect in the springtime when peas are fresh.
If you’re a seafood lover, make Cacciucco a part of your must-try Italian dishes list. This seafood stew, composed of shellfish, monkfish, squid or octopus, is spicy and zesty. It’s cooked in a rich tomato and chile-based broth, seasoned with garlic and sage and served with a piece of crusty bread.
Cacciucco is native to Livorno, and traditionally made by fishmongers using the day’s unsold catch.
8. Focaccia di recco
This tasty dish, which hails from the Genobese town of Recco, is one of the region’s most flavorful yet simplest delicacies.
Focaccia di recco is basically just a thin sheet of baked focaccia with a melty and creamy layer of crescenza cheese in the center. Legend has it that when the citizens were hiding during the Crusades, they invented this focaccia with the little they had, including flour, water, olive oil, and some cheese. Today, you can find it in every bakery, pizzeria, and restaurant in town.
9. Pasta alla Carbonara
You’ve probably heard of this one, but are you sure you had yours the right way? Authentic Pasta alla Carbonara doesn’t have white sauce. This Italian dish is made with spaghetti pasta and tiny pieces of pancetta, then tossed all together in raw egg and grated cheese.
Sounds weird? Wait until you taste how the raw egg over the piping hot pasta combines perfectly with the cheese in giving off that nice, creamy texture.
Author Bio: Carmina Natividad is a lifestyle writer for L’Enoteca Di Napoli, an Italian restaurant, showcasing the best of Italian food and wines in the heart of Dublin city centre. Next to eating pizza and sipping wine, this self-proclaimed foodie enjoys discovering hidden gems and writing engaging articles about food, travel, and lifestyle.